IIt seemed, at the start of the match, as if Heaven Help Us CC could live up to its name. The young coadjutor who opened the hitting received a second ball and it was clear that the fast opening bowler of the opposition, we will call him Khalid, although that is not his real name, he was going to be a handful.
Like everyone who played for Refugee Council XI on Thursday, Khalid had been displaced from Afghanistan. Here on the Beckenham sports ground, he and his teammates were playing against a team made up of religious leaders, human rights lawyers and the odd buzzer. If you were looking for an image of sport as a force for good, you wouldn’t find a more picturesque one: a lush green garden, a vicar doing a hat-trick, a rabbi fasting in the field; Chris Lewis, the former all-rounder from England, wearing blue latex gloves and serving refreshments; young refugees who find a place of belonging in their new home.
We know that cricket in Afghanistan is good news. Amidst the misery of war, terror, and decades-long instability, a sport emerged that brought joy wherever it was found. Its players flourished and the national team found a place at the highest level of international competition. How could that not be a symbol of a hopeful future?
Suddenly, the future is terribly different. This week, a Taliban official said that women would be banned from playing sports under the new regime and Cricket Australia responded that in such a case they would suspend the men’s test against Afghanistan in November. The team of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and others had become the world’s cricket favorite. In this alternate future, they may have a hard time landing a game.
No one feels prepared for such a disgusting turn in their story. And you can understand the argument that a sports boycott of Afghanistan is the last thing a devastated country needs. Who is comfortable cutting off one of the few remaining sources of pride and joy for a people besieged by such tragic circumstances? Who wouldn’t feel dizzy, freezing a team that has overcome so much adversity?
It’s certainly not the players’ fault that the United States and NATO withdrew their troops from the country and let it fall into the hands of a group that has a history of punishing women for studying, showing their faces, or leaving their homes without the company. of a man. blood relatives. Nor can the Taliban be seen to change their mind on that brutality by removing Afghanistan from probationary status, which is the most likely form any cricket sanction would take.
Taking Afghanistan out of high-level cricket would be a heartbreaker. And yet what heart can bear any of the stories coming out of that country right now? Her fledgling women’s team spent the last six months training for a first match against Oman, which she will now not play. Emails from the players to the ICC, asking for help as the Taliban approached Kabul, apparently were not received. Three arrived in Canada; many more live in fear, hiding their bats and their pads, confined to their homes. Some have been threatened with death if they play again.
If only it were one of those seemingly malleable human rights issues, like the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar or the reeducation of Uighurs in China, matters seemingly so complex and intractable that they still allow for the organization of a World Cup. Cup or Olympic Winter Games. But an outright ban on women’s sport could not be a clearer violation of the values declared by the ICC.
Anyone who has been to a test or an ODI in recent times will have heard the ICC’s anti-discrimination policy, because it is read in the PA before every game. It is such a long and detailed rule (culture, color, ancestry, nationality, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, and / or maternity status) that it is almost a parody of modern virtue. But it establishes its position. You can’t take a public stance like that and then say it’s okay if one of your 12 test nations relegates women to second-class status and abuses them for exercising their human freedoms.
Cricket is with women or it means nothing. Afghanistan received special treatment from the ICC when it became a full member; she was granted Test status on the condition that she would develop the women’s game. No one can pretend that this is going to happen now. As anyone who has lived or worked in the country recently will tell you, people in Afghanistan have bigger problems than if women can play cricket. Can cricket, however, admit a higher demand on its conscience than the safety and freedom of women?
The game at Beckenham turned into a good one. Heaven Help Us CC must have encountered some divine intervention, because they managed to score 137 of their 20 overs. They even had their opponents at 92 for six with six overs remaining, before refugee XI got big and was left out of the total with a full over to spare.
The two teams met in the gardens. One player offered a Hindu prayer and another, from the Afghan team, read a verse from the Koran. The young man wept while reading; and it didn’t feel bad crying with him. We all have to accept that in Afghanistan, right now, no one is winning.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism